5 Pumpkin-Carving Tips from the Da Vinci of Jack-O’-Lanterns

Using these tips, your pumpkin is sure to be the best on the block.

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Ah, Halloween: The perfect opportunity to exert your dominance over the other houses on your block with the most intricate jack-o’-lantern this side of Sleepy Hollow.

Unfortunately, the tools of the pumpkin-carving trade usually start and end with a sad knife that couldn’t cut a straight line if it tried, and breaks about halfway through. It’s no wonder, then, that your attempt at pumpkin art looks more like a gourd massacre than a spine-chilling skeleton.

But don’t fret: We spoke with Maniac Pumpkin Carvers’ Marc Evan, whose masterful carvings have been displayed in both the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art (he’s also responsible for the DSC pumpkin above), to get some tips on how you can carve the best pumpkin in your neighborhood.

Tip #1: “Always pick a pumpkin that has a stem. If the stem has been snapped off or is dry and brittle, leave the pumpkin in the patch. The greener the stem, the fresher the pumpkin and the longer it will last after you carve it. Never pick up the pumpkin by the stem; it will snap off and cause the pumpkin to rot more quickly.”

Tip #2: “Give the pumpkin a good washing before you carve it. We usually wash ours with a little mild soap and water. If a pumpkin has been sitting in a field or a store, there’s probably a lot of bacteria and dust that’s accumulated on its surface. And when you start carving, that gunk gets inside and will make the pumpkin get moldy quicker.”

Tip #3: “Even if you’re carving a classic jack-o’-lantern, it’s still beneficial to sketch out the idea on paper before actually carving the pumpkin. Afterward, you can take that idea and transfer it right onto the pumpkin.”

Tip #4: “We always encourage people to get creative with their pumpkin carving tools. Plenty of things you have sitting around the house can make great pumpkin-carving tools: Drill bits, hacksaws, X-ACTO knives, paring knives and even lemon zesters are all great for creating different textures. If you end up using a knife, it’s important to use a sharp one. There’s less chance of an accident if you’re using a sharp knife over a dull knife.”

Tip #5: “Spraying your carved pumpkin with something that will prevent mold growth is always a good idea. We use a solution of essential oils, but a capful of bleach or lemon juice in a spray bottle works well, too. Also, when your pumpkin isn’t on display, it’s best to keep it as cold as possible without letting it freeze. Tightly wrapping your pumpkin with plastic wrap and refrigerating it will extend the life of your pumpkin from days to weeks.”